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Mod. 11 - The Possibilities of Remote Work

Journal Prompt: Write a blog or produce a short video to pitch to an arts publication of your choice. Address the perils and opportunities of remote work and digital technology in the arts.


To Whom It May Concern:

The Editorial Staff of Symphony Magazine,

The pandemic that began in 2020 created a massive shift in how artists, arts administrators and audiences interact with each other. WFH (an acronym few people knew before 2020) and digital technology became essential tools for members in all three groups in order to stay in contact with one another in the absence of live artistic and musical performances. This meteoric culture shift presented many challenges, but it also created new opportunities which many arts organizations are still investing in and pursuing even as live performances and audiences return three years later.

The perils of remote work are not new to artists or arts organizations. In fact, remote work is the norm for many artists, it’s just the terminology and the technological mediums that have changed. If an orchestra hires a violinist as a guest soloist to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, the company has no means by which to confirm the soloist is actually practicing the piece in advance of the performance. They have to trust the artist’s past credentials, experience, and their manager’s endorsement (if they have one) until the guest artist arrives for the first day of rehearsals. The same is true of the conductor and the musicians in the orchestra. Their preparation in practice is revealed during rehearsals and if any of them are not prepared, they could lose their position in the ensemble. The ability to practice from practically anywhere, but especially at home, has long been one of the benefits of establishing a career in the performing arts. Artists learn over the course of their education to be self-managed in both their time and finances knowing they will more than likely work as independent contractors throughout their careers; a skillset many others had to quickly learn while working from home during the pandemic including arts administrators whose experience historically have been more closely aligned with traditional corporate office culture dynamics.

On the technology side, digital tech opened up a world of opportunities for artists to collaborate with other creatives from different countries and cultures which resulted in a wide range of artistic projects experienced by audiences worldwide. This not only generated new artistic and collaborative relationships for audiences, it also opened up all of their work to new audiences globally, which expanded the impact of the work well beyond the traditional performance stage. A positive byproduct generated from the need to create digitally was that artists learned new skills and softwares they would have otherwise never worked with. This allowed some of them to create new artistic practices, promote their services to other artists and arts orgs, and create a second income stream during an otherwise very difficult time.

While there were certainly some benefits to the digital and remote landscape for artists during the pandemic, the challenge of isolation was deeply felt by artists in particular. Some of the magic behind creating great art is created through collaboration and shared time and space in art making. Digital collaboration offered new ways of making connections, but a consistent comment received by arts orgs over the last few years from their artists and musicians was how much they missed being together in person to make art and the toll it took on their mental and emotional well-being. Logistically, the need to collaborate digitally also created challenges since conceptual ideas shared over Zoom are not always understood in the same way which caused delays in several projects as teams figured out how to align in new ways. The digital landscape also revealed the challenges and risks artists face to protect their IP from either failing to copyright, or dealing with cases of copyright infringement and piracy. Sadly, many arts orgs lack the legal expertise and resources needed to protect themselves and their artists from losing financial remunerations as a result of their small size and nonprofit statuses.

Remote work, sharing art and performances over digital platforms and the risks associated with both have been added to the ongoing list of dynamics artists must consider and be prepared to deal with in the post-pandemic landscape. While access to new skills, resources and global audiences present new opportunities, they also present new challenges in collaboration, IP, and their personal lives. Throughout history artists have always found ways to unite, make great art, and use their creativity to reflect the human experience and survive, and that didn’t change in the pandemic. But if one looks closely at some of the emerging qualities coming from larger corporations, a new practice is emerging in which some are starting to look to artists and their practices to find new ways of working and collaborating in the corporate world. These possibilities might provide an opportunity for more artists to integrate into the corporate world in ways that were almost unheard of in the 20th century. What will happen in that space remains to be seen, but the possibilities are exciting and are worth noting for all arts organizations.


Ben Newman

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